Super-collider, Kings Place

The collisions intended here were between artists and artists: for this latest venture in the ‘Out Hear’ series, the Japanese composer Dai Fujikura had brought together a bunch of performers who he reckoned would strike sparks off each other.

His chamber group Okeanos – combining Western instruments with the Japanese koto zither and sho mouth-organ - would collide with a video plus film-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto doing his pianistic thing; bassoonist Pascal Gallois would play Berio’s austerely ground-breaking solo ‘Sequenza XII’, while David Toop would premiere his ‘Quilts (To Scratch A Note)’, and violinist James Widden would deliver Helmut Lachenmann’s ‘Toccatina’; the defiantly uncategorisable mezzo Lore Lixenberg would collide with all of them.

But what we got was less collisions than a series of unexpected congruences, over which the spirit of the 75-year-old German modernist composer Lachenmann presided benignly, despite his physical absence. For him, beauty is ‘the pillow - or pin-cushion – of our species’, and in his view it must be boldly sought in the most unlikely places. Such as the point of contact between the strings of a bow and the belly of a violin, as his extraordinary piece ‘Toccatino’ demonstrated: the softly unpitched soughing which results might be scarcely audible, but it’s definitely beauty of a kind. More obviously beautiful was Berio’s ‘Sequenza’, in which its dedicatee Pascall Gallois found whole universes in the inflexion of single notes, thus inducing us to savour the inner world of the bassoon. From which it was but a small jump to the inner world of the human voice, as exemplified by Lixenberg’s virtuosity. French phrases repeated obsessively fast – very Dada, very Absurdist – ran the gamut of vocal effects, and ended up creating a beauty of their own.

Not everything was a hit. Sakamoto’s typically ruminative pianism became the sonic backdrop for a video consisting of ectoplasmic blobs and squirts. The humble laptop – instrument of choice for many musical avant-gardists – became the backdrop for a wild but singularly pointless exercise in vocal warbling. The finale was a five-section work in which Okeanos demonstrated how East and West can create instrumental synergy. The koto didn’t sound like itself at all, but the sho was magnificent, taming the oboe, clarinet, and viola with its ancient, petrified purity.

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